Development of the Relationship Management Survey: A Tool for Assessing Performance and Career Success of Professional Service Professionals

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ABSTRACT

Professional service professionals (PSPs)--such as management consultants, public accountants, and investment bankers--must satisfy the increasing demands of their clients, the changing demands of their leaders, and the developmental needs of staff. Professional service firms (PSFs) are both creating and responding to the pressures faced by their professionals through enhanced performance management systems that use multisource feedback for assessment and professional growth. The development of the Relationship Management Survey (RMS) for PSPs is presented. The RMS dimensions are then used to generate hypotheses regarding how different stakeholder assessments of professionals' work-related performances can assist in performance management and contribute to their subsequent career success.

INTRODUCTION

A career in a professional service firm (PSF) can be very rewarding--personally, financially, and professionally--particularly if one survives to become a partner or managing director (Maister, 1997; Stumpf, 2002). Yet, PSFs are facing significant profitability challenges due to the costs associated with globalization, consolidation within their industries, and client demands for more differentiated and value-added services. The increased pressure to competently serve many diverse stakeholders has led to 70-80 hour work weeks, a sense of irresolvable conflicts among some stakeholders, and feelings of being overwhelmed. With up-or-out selection-to-partner rates below 10% at many of the most prestigious PSFs (Stumpf, 2002), young professionals must continuously examine their career potential and current success--accepting and understanding the perspectives of their clients, partners who are often the owners, peers, and direct reports. Since these stakeholders often have differing goals, and frequently have different expectations for the performance of young professionals, ones career development must be actively managed and shared by the PSF and the individual. The performance management system can assist in this regard by facilitating more effective career choices by both the individual and the organization.

Performance management in PSFs involves significantly different roles and competencies than are found in traditional work organizations such as banks, manufacturing firms, or retail organizations (Stumpf, Doh, & Clark, 2002). PSF work is that of a consultant to a client. The competencies necessary to be successful in professional services, beyond the expertise for which the PSF is retained, are closely associated with relationship building, more so than the traditional competencies associated with line management and task supervision. Before one can development measures of performance excellence for PSPs, it is necessary to understand the nature of PSF work.

PROFESSIONAL SERVICE WORK

Services generally possess four defining attributes relative to products: services are more heterogeneous, less tangible, more perishable, and more likely to be purchased and consumed simultaneously (Bessom & Jackson, 1975). Professional services--such as business consulting, public accounting, investment banking, providing legal advice, and public relations/advertising--share the attributes of services in general, and have additional defining attributes that make them distinct from other services such as retail, consumer banking, telecommunications, utilities, travel and entertainment. Professional services tend to involve the delivery of scarce expertise that is applied to a specific task. The work takes place over a limited time period (days, weeks or months) and involves extensive investigation and analysis (Maister, 1993, 1997). PSPs often have a college or graduate education and receive specialized training for their profession. PSFs generally agree to provide their services according to accepted professional practices and a code of professional ethics, sometimes codified through certification profession (e. …